Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I Love a Small-Town Church

     Did you hear the one about the church that was so small, when the pastor said "Dearly beloved", his wife blushed?  Well, I grew up in small churches like that and have come to love the family atmosphere that surrounds a small town church. I am not just a face in the crowd, but a vital member, a sister, a friend. When I walk through the door, I am greeted by name with a smile.  I am there not just to be encouraged, but to give encouragement. When my seat is empty, I am missed. When I am hurting, I am comforted. When I rejoice, I am not alone.
      There are many advantages to attending a small church. It reminds me of a family gathering together around the supper table. We are there to be fed, but there is so  much more than just eating going on. There is conversation, interaction and learning.  I am reminded of the words of a song by Lanny Wolfe that states:
 "And sometimes we laugh together, Sometimes we cry.
Sometimes we share together heartaches and sighs.
Sometimes we dream together of how it will be
When we all get to heaven, God's family."
          I also love the old-fashioned feel of our services.  We meet to be fed from God's Word every week.  We are not there to be entertained.  It is not the goal of the church leadership to try every different crowd pleasing trick to draw numbers of people into the building.  When someone stands in the pulpit they are there to minister, not entertain. We have often seen a brother or sister minister from the pulpit in tears as they pour out their heart.  Our goal is to learn from God's Word and to seek out others who desire to please HIm.  We sing the old hymns of the faith and we read from the Old Book.   As a mother of young children, I love the fact that  my children have also been given the opportunity to learn to minister in our church.  They are involved in the childrens' program that our church has on Wednesday evenings, and about every other month, they share the songs and verses they have been learning with the congregation.  They also are learning to play the piano and have opportunities to play and sing specials in church.  I have seen larger congregations in which only the most accomplished are permitted to minister/perform in the service, no doubt, because it is a performance and not a ministry.  Even in our Christmas program every year, every child, from the college and career ages all the way down to the 2's and 3's, that is involved in Sunday School is given a part in the play or program that they do. We have learned to love the simplicity found in a child's ministry, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem in the eyes of the world.  I, for one, am grateful that my children are learning to encourage through music and Scripture in the church services.

    In our congregation, we work together.  What a joy it is to have a common goal and to see the results of our labor after the work is done!  In a small congregation, we all pitch in and do our part.  In a mega-church, it is easy to just disappear in the crowd and not feel obligated to do your part because "someone else will do it." I think that is why a lot of people are drawn to large churches. They can sit and soak up the benefits, but not feel the need to join in the work. They like the anonymity of being able to slip in and out when they want to and not have the responsibility that comes with it.  In our small congregation, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses because we know each other so well.  We each have been given a special talent that we can use to build up our church family and when the time comes to work, we do our part, not out of obligation but out of love for one another.  And, when our pew is empty, we are missed.
     We also cry together.  That is the beauty of a family of church members who know each other well and love one another.  When any member is hurting, it is as if we ourselves are going through that trial with them.  We have often walked through the valley with another who may not be our blood  kin, but we feel their pain just as much as if they were our family.  Many earnest prayers have been uttered on the behalf of our brothers and sisters in need.  And when it is our turn to suffer, we know we too will be surrounded by the loving care of our family in Christ.

     As any family will, we also laugh together.  Our church services are often full of laughter as we share the joy of the Lord.  We remember the boy who lovingly called the pastor "Pasture", and the child who was so enthusiastic about getting baptized that he entered the baptismal  waters cannonball style. We well remember the time the pastor wore his microphone, while still "hot", out to the bathroom to blow his nose. We tease about likes and dislikes.  We have our own "family jokes" and can laugh together about our foibles and mistakes. The joy of the Lord is our strength!
         I love my small town congregation.  We are so much  more than just a group of people who meet together every week.  We are a family of brothers and sisters who care for one another.  What a blessing it is to be a part of this family!

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